Simple A’s Maxwell Hoffman happens to be a good friend and mentor of mine. I’m lucky and honored to have him as one of my cheerleaders. Maxwell recently wrote and excellent article about structure and semantics for context in content for Simple A’s blog and for the ISTC.
His article starts, Content becomes intelligent, flexible, and capable of scalable personalization through structure and semantics.
Content drives customer experience (CX). In order to achieve optimal CX, we need the ability to manage multiple variations of content components that are dynamically assembled as relevant experiences, based on the context of the customer’s touchpoints. We need the ability to create a content component once, then reuse and deploy it many times, in many ways. This requires structured content with an intelligence shaped by semantics.
Structuring content within a well-defined content model makes content scalable, reusable, adaptable, and measurable. We cannot create real-time, personalized conversations at scale without structured, intelligent, semantically rich and truly accessible content.
He continues the article breaking down how we can create content models based on reusable content (do I hear DITA?) and how we model content has direct impact on user and customer experience. This is the foundation of intelligent content, if you think about it.
It’s a well-written article, and I highly recommend that you take a look at it.
Here in the U.S. (and perhaps in other places that have Netflix), there’s a big phenomenon about Marie Kondo. For those who don’t know who Marie Kondo is, she wrote a self-help book about home organization several years ago called, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. This book is now a Netflix series that has taken the U.S. by storm. While I have had the book in my Amazon Wish List for four years, and I haven’t watched the series (yet), through other articles, interviews I’ve read with Ms. Kondo, and other videos, I’ve gotten the basic ideas of what the Konmari method is. In the process, I’ve come to the conclusion that content strategists are the Marie Kondos of technical communication.
Now, I’ve thought about this for a while, so there is some logic to this. Ever since I’ve learned this content strategy analogy from Val Swisher of Content Rules, I’ve always used a person’s clothes closet as an example of how content strategy works. It might be oversimplified, but it works, and this is how you can further the analogy because of the Konmari method.
In that analogy, it’s explained that just about everyone needs to organize their closet, because most people don’t want to be looking for their clean clothes in a pile on the floor (although my teenage son is an expert on that method). While you can certainly hang all or most of your clothes, it helps to organize them a little bit. You can simply hang everything up, but it’s helpful to organize what you have. For example, you can put all the shirts in one area, the pants in another, skirts in another, etc. But that’s not the only way you can organize them. You could also organize everything by color–all the red items together, all the blue items together, all the black items together, and so on. You get the idea. Neither way is wrong, as long as it makes sense. The idea is to optimize what content you have so that it’s easily found when you need it.
In Marie Kondo’s Konmari method, organizing does not only mean getting organized with your items, but also determining what you don’t need and what you really need. You haven’t worn that sweater for ten years and really aren’t thrilled with it anymore? Thank it for its service and need at the time, but get rid of it–don’t hold onto it. She also gives tips on how to take what’s remaining and optimize how you access it. For example, she recommends folding t-shirts using a particular method so that they can be stored vertically, making them more easily accessible in one’s drawers. Her main mantra is about only keeping any items that “spark joy”. She even uses checklists to keep you on track in determining what to keep and how to stay organized. Does this sound a little familiar?
In this respect, this is why content strategists are the Konmari experts of content. What is our primary job? Sort through content. Make sense of what you need and don’t need, and organize it. We use taxonomy and content models to help our clients organize their content so that they–and their users–feel that the content sparks joy (serves its purpose most effectively) and they understand where they are going on their journey.
Now, recently, I’ve gotten into debates with a colleague about using content models before using a site map. His argument is that by creating a content model or taxonomy outline of a website when revamping after a content audit or inventory is a pointless exercise, as it leads the client to believe that this outline will dictate the sitemap and how the pages work, and it should be more fluid. While I understand his point, I strongly disagree. Let’s go back to that closet analogy. You’ve been hired to organize someone’s closet. They have a pile of clean clothes on the floor, and no bars or shelves or drawers in the closet. What do you need to do? Sure, you could organize all the clothes on your bed, but it doesn’t help because you are organizing for your closet, not storing on your bed! You need someplace to store it rationally. You need to provide the structure–the closet–first. For content, that could be a taxonomy outline or content model. Once you have that in place, then you can start organizing.
Taking that a step further, let’s say that you’ve set up some hanging bars and shelves in the closet the way the works best for the space, and organized your clothes for your client by type of clothing–shirts, pants, t-shirts, skirts and dresses (if you are so inclined). The client is almost happy, but feels something is still not right to them. “I’d really like to have my short-sleeved shirts together, separated from my long-sleeved shirts, because I have to wear long-sleeved shirts for work and I want to find them quickly.” All content in an inventory is not weighed the same, and should be treated at different levels as well. Okay, in this structure, it’s something that can be done easily. The structure of the closet has stayed the same (the taxonomy), but there’s a little bit of moving around and prioritization of main categorizations and sub-categorizations, but it makes it most optimal for the client.
The client then might say, “Wait, I think I also would prefer that the shelf for the t-shirts be moved to this different spot.” It might be possible, and that makes sense, or moving the shelf there would not allow for as much storage space, and that’s your job to tell them that it’s a bad idea. Ultimately, they can take your advice, or they can disregard it, but you’ve done your due diligence in pointing out what you know will work best, and what won’t.
In the same way that having that initial closet structure is important, the content model or taxonomy outline is important as well. You cannot determine the flow (like a website sitemap) until you know what the initial structure is. There is some fluidity or flexibility with the model, but as with any physical structures, there are limitations. The model outline and the sitemap might seem redundant, but in the end, they really work together to help the client. The outline sets up the structure as it should be set up (at least initially, if not entirely going forward) and imply how pages might be laid out, but the sitemap visually supports the outline by documenting how the flow of the outlined content works.
So everything we do as content strategists really is done using the Konmari method, if you think about it. We help others to provide structure, organization, and help determine if content is needed, and thanking it for its service while it lasted. Our jobs are meant to not only spark joy in our clients in helping them to create a better, more fluid, searchable way to access content, but ensure that the best content is available, so that their users can have the content spark joy in them as well. We, as content strategists, have studied this, and we know what’s needed to make things happen in the architecture and building of this “closet” or website. We need to be trusted that we know what we are talking about, even if sometimes it seems like we are talking nonsense (we usually aren’t). We provide the initial solutions that make things happen, and no amount of UX or design is going to happen if you don’t have your content (or your closet) in order first.
What do you think? Does my Konmari analogy makes sense? Include your comments below.